The Queen Mary, once the fastest ship in the world, has been safely docked in Long Beach, California for over 50 years and is a beautiful reminder of the days when ocean liners crossed the sea between America and Great Britain.
The Cunard/White Star Queen Mary, with her elegant lines and art deco decor, was built for luxury and speed. In 1936, the year she was launched, she won the Blue Ribbon, an award given annually to the fastest ship to cross the Atlantic.
Over the next three decades, the ship played an important role as a landing craft during World War II, thanks to her speed, which allowed her to stay ahead of Hitler’s submarines. It then carried passengers between New York and London for decades. A victim of the jet age, the Queen Mary’s naval career ended in 1967 when she made her 1000th crossing of the North Atlantic.
Despite being fixed, the ship has long suffered from rough seas in its shelter as a number of reliable operators have failed to make a profit. Today, the future of the Queen Mary is once again in question, as her lease expires on December 20. may be auctioned off after the current operator filed for bankruptcy in January.
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Long Beach has been owned by the great lady as a hotel and tourist attraction since her arrival from Scotland in 1967. The city leases it to the operators, who agree to maintain the Queen Mary with revenue from events, hotel operations and passenger fees from Carnival Cruise Line ships docking in Long Beach.
But the biggest stumbling block to the success of the 1,019.4-foot-long, 81,237 gross ton ship as a maritime museum, hotel and event venue is maintenance.
The Walt Disney Company once operated the ship, but gave up the lease after a 1992 at-sea survey found that $27 million worth of repairs were needed. After more than 20 years, a 2015 study commissioned by the city found that emergency repairs would cost up to $289 million over the next few years.
The current tenant is Singapore-based Eagle Hospitality Trust, which has 18 hotels in its portfolio. The company was already in financial trouble before the pandemic and filed for bankruptcy in January with more than $500 million in debt. As part of the bankruptcy proceedings, the company is selling its interests in 15 properties, including the Queen Mary. The opening price of the portfolio is $470 million.
The Long Beach Business Journal reports that Eagle may also auction off the lease of the Queen Mary or each of the lots individually. The head of the bankruptcy reorganization department told the publication that he hopes to sell the lease separately and has already received several offers.
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The Queen Mary is a special asset that offers a huge development opportunity on the 45-acre port site, says Alan Tantliffe. He is a world class asset, and we hope the next goalkeeper will allow him to reach his full potential.
Eagle Hospitality, a subsidiary of Urban Communities, hoped to use this 45-acre site to operate the ship. Queen Mary Island was the name of an ambitious project to create an entertainment venue on the site of the current car park. Plans call for a 200-room hotel, 2,400 feet of waterfront, bars, restaurants and retail space.
There are a number of hurdles that must be overcome before this project can proceed, including the stringent environmental regulations that apply to the waterfront.
But John Keisler, Long Beach’s economic development director, told the Long Beach Business Journal that he believes the Queen Mary will remain a symbol of the city. The long-term economic outlook for leisure, hospitality and entertainment in Long Beach remains incredibly strong, and the Queen Mary will be the center of that economic growth, he said.
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Now that the medical orders related to COWID-19 have been lifted and a new operator for the Queen Mary has been found, the city is looking forward to renewed plans for the preservation and development of the Queen Mary and its surroundings.
The Queen Mary’s current problems are compounded by the fact that she has been closed to visitors since May 2020 due to the global pandemic. And Carnival Cruise Line’s modern ships, which share the port, have been absent since last March, eliminating another source of revenue.
Historian and journalist Peter Knego told Cruise Radio that the problem with preserving the ships is never the cost of buying them, but only the cost of modifying and properly maintaining them for their afterlife.
But Knego, who runs midshipcentury.com, says the Queen Mary is irreplaceable.
It put Long Beach, then a county port city, on the map when it acquired it. Despite hard times, it is still the city’s mascot and the highlight of the waterfront and skyline. Having them there is like having the Statue of Liberty in New York. It is a treasure that must be preserved at all costs.
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